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50 Years Ago: Man in Space

Russia’s daring young man did all the right things, at the right time.

Sent looping around the Earth, he sang a patriotic song: (“The motherland hears, the motherland sees, the motherland knows…”). On the rostrum beside Mr. Khruschev, he was the star turn at this year’s Moscow May Day parade.

Gagarin’s exploit, Commander Shepard’s flight, and the arrival of the Russian Venus rocket shot, have put spaceships right back in the news. Such things are interesting, not to say exciting – but have they been worth anything?

We all know that Russia and the United States are feverishly applying the knowledge which their space probes give them to the production of more accurate missiles. Some of these were paraded before Gagarin in the Red Square on May Day.

Without a doubt, the quest for more accurate and more powerful weapons is the main incentive in the space programmes of the great powers.

Incidentally, they may also gain knowledge which has little or no military value. But there is no guarantee that even this will not one day be misused.

There is one thing the space shots have to teach everybody. Capitalist society is bound to distort human knowledge for inhuman ends. Scientific investigation can only come into its own when this world is sanely organised.
(“News in Review”, Socialist Standard, June 1961)